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Picking Cotton Informative Essay

Amelia Iliohan
University of Kentucky
CIS 110-022

Ronald Cottons role in Picking Cotton is a prime example of how perceptions effect
communication, especially how prejudice, stereotypes, and self-esteem are affected by these
perceptions. Perception is the focus of the novel Picking Cotton, so every action made by the
characters highlight the perception of the people around them as well as readers. The focus of
this paper is to inform readers of the challenges of perception in society by providing concrete
examples from the novel, Picking Cotton as well as examples out of the context that involve
the perception of ourselves and others. The point is not only to focus on the perception of the
people around Ronald Cotton, but also that of the people in our current society.
The role of stereotypes, self-esteem, and prejudice in this paper will be crucial, as they
are the focus as well as how they tie into perception. Stereotypes are obviously a huge factor in
Picking Cotton as the main character is African American and not from the best known family
in their community. The time period that this book is set in is modern, but there is still an obvious
discrimination between races, which does not play into Cottons favor. When Jennifer first comes
into the police station and gives a description of the suspect, the officers are automatically
making a stereotype for the man they believe raped her. Next, self-esteem does not seem to be a
problem in the beginning of the novel, but every year passes that Cotton remains in prison, his
self-esteem fluctuates greatly. He begins to doubt himself and his abilities because everyone,
even some of his lawyers, believe that he is guilty of completing the crime. The only small
boosts of self-esteem that Cotton experiences are when he is granted another trial hearing, but it
quickly deflates again as he is charged with another life sentence in the second trial.
Lastly, prejudice may be one of the most influential factors in Ronald Cottons story.
Before Jennifer Thomson is raped, there is already a prejudice against Cotton and his family.
Some of his brothers have recent criminal records and he has committed a few crimes himself.

This as well as living in a predominantly white town sets the stage for how readers can safely
assume Cotton will have no offense against the town law enforcement. Beginning when he is
being interviewed the day after the rape, he is shown prejudice by the officers at the police
station. They are rude, inconsiderate, and closed minded to Cottons defense in the case. They
doubt him at every turn and when he mistakes the days of his alibi, they all but dance over the
fact they have proof to charge him now. This is an example of how legal and social issues
involving the judiciary system can be flawed, prejudiced, and distort our perceptions. Townies
believe that law enforcement has their best interests in mind and that they will make the best
decision for the citizens of that town, but the flaw in that is the prejudice that the residents do not
see. The officers have already built up their own opinion of which suspect is guilty, and can often
sway the opinion of the victim having to choose the perpetrator. Cotton comes into the station
and is polite and proper, but the officers ignore that because of the prejudice they have towards
Cotton, his family, and his race.
One prime resource that can be used for this book are the reviews by
PickingCottonBook.com. Each of these reviews are directly based off of the novel and are
acclaimed and credible resources. Publishers Weekly states Together they have produced a
well-modulated and generously balanced memoirat once a devastating and uplifting crash
course in the criminal justice system. This quote is specifically important because of the
description of the actual novel and its impact on readers. Instead of the actual story of the
characters, Publishers Weekly is more focused on the memoir as a whole and the educational
aspect of the criminal justice system. This review gives readers insight on what to expect from
the true story and the emotional turmoil that comes with it. Another resource from
PickingCottonBook.com is the Kirkus Reviews comment, Convicted prisoners rarely receive

attention when claiming innocence from their cells, and they usually lack the money, the legal
assistance and the support network to make their assertions heard. Cotton didn't have much
money, but he drew strength from his family and found unusually receptive lawyers willing to
represent him pro bono in time-consuming, seemingly hopeless post-conviction proceedings.
This resource implies there are still implications from mistakes made in the law. Cotton sat in
prison for 11 years, trying to get anyone that would listen to him to hear him say he was
innocent. Seemingly the only people that completely supported him were his family, the people
the judiciary system were so prejudiced about. If Cotton was innocent for 11 years, and no one
listened to him, it makes you wonder how many other people are sitting in jail because of the
flaws in the legal system.
The greatest consequence of prejudice is the absence of communication. A criminal is
decided as guilty long before they enter the court room, and Picking Cotton is a primary example
of this injustice. Even going back to when Cotton was walking to the police station, and he
approached the officers, he was polite and respectful but the officers had already made the
assumption that he looked like the suspect. They did not allow Cotton to have any adequate
communication with them to sway their opinions. They believed they had all the evidence they
needed to prove he was the rapist. Ronald Cotton is a principle resource in this essay, as well as
Jennifer Thomson-Cannino. With this story being a real life account, their opinion and quotes are
the most important. The perceptions of Jennifer and Ronald are starkly different. In the
beginning, Jennifers perception of Cotton is the same as the officers because she truly believes
that Ronald is the man who raped her. As the story progresses, she still holds a tight grudge on
him even as he goes through another trial, and is convicted guilty. It is not until DNA testing
becomes a possibility that anyones perspective changes on Ronald Cotton. One of the most

impactful things to me, is that no one believes Cotton is innocent besides his family and himself.
He has a couple of lawyers in the beginning that seem to be on his side, but it is not until the
final trial that Cotton finally has someone on his side. It takes hard, evidential proof for anyone
to be convinced that Cotton was innocent all this time because of the prejudice and injustice that
has been put on Cotton for the past 11 years.
Another incredibly impactful resource is the Common Reading Experience for the
University of Kentucky. This book was chosen to educate incoming freshman of the dangers of
sexual assault and the effects of racism (hey there is that prejudice again!), although as a
freshman reading this book, that is not the main point I received. The main things I focused on
were the consequences of the social injustice and prejudice. Jennifer Cannino was impacted
directly by her rape, and I am positive she faces tremendous consequences from that every day,
but Ronald Cotton sat in prison for 11 years for something he did not do, and be ignored when he
pleas innocent in every way.
The most important thing I gathered from this book is this: sometimes we are wrong and
when we know this, we have accept the consequences of our actions. As people, we are not
perfect and we make mistakes, but the one thing this book has taught me to do is not to be
prejudiced. There are ongoing stereotypes about race, sex, religion, etc, but it is our job as
college students to reduce that prejudice in our up and coming society. Ronald Cottons role in
Picking Cotton is a prime example of how perceptions effect our communication, especially
how prejudice, stereotypes, and self-esteem are affected by our perceptions of others.

Bibliography:
Cannino, J., & Cotton, R. (2009). Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and
Redemption. New York City, New York: St. Martin's Press
Cannino, J., & Cotton, R. (2009). Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and
Redemption. New York City, New York: St. Martin's Publishers Weekly Review
Cannino, J., & Cotton, R. (2009). Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and
Redemption. New York City, New York: St. Martin's Kirkus Reviews, PickingCottonBook.com
Cannino, J., & Cotton, R. (2009). Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and
Redemption. New York City, New York: St. Martin's Press, Common Reading Experience:
University of Kentucky Freshman Class 2015
Picking Cotton: 60 Minutes Special. (2011, April 21). Retrieved October 12, 2015.
Abstract:
This essay mainly includes the perceptions and relations of Picking Cotton by Cannino
and Cotton. Topics included in this essay include how perceptions effect communication,
examples of events that involve the self-perspective and the perspective of others, as well as the
effects of prejudice. With the context of prejudice and its relationship with communication, legal
and social issues involving distorted perceptions are studied and improved based on research
from five sources.